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Illustration of the body's lymphatic system and showing lymph nodes

Many types of cancer can develop in the white blood cells (lymphocytes) which are part of the body’s lymphatic system. There are different kinds of lymphocytes, each with a different function.

  • "B-Lymphocytes" produce antibodies which fight bacteria and infection in the body.
  • "T-Lymphocytes" destroy any foreign cells or viruses in the body. They also signal the B-Lymphocytes to make more antibodies.
  • "Natural Killer Cells" work to destroy invaders, including viruses and sometimes cancer cells.

When these cells change or start growing out of control, cancerous masses/tumors can develop. Because they are located in several different areas of the body, they can develop anywhere, but they usually start in a lymph node.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are the two primary types of lymphoma, however there are several subtypes. Of these two primary types, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is much more common, with the two most common subtypes being diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma. A diagnosis is made after a biopsy is performed and a pathologist looks at the cells under a microscope. If an abnormal cell known as a Reed-Sternberg cell is identified, the lymphoma is classified as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. If it is not, then the lymphoma is classified as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

It’s important for an oncologist to know which type of the disease a person has because each are very different, with a different prognosis and treatment plan options.

Age: While lymphoma is most often diagnosed in people older than 60, there are some types that are more common in infants, children and young adults.

Sex: Some types of lymphoma are more predominant in men, while others are more commonly diagnosed in women.

Medical history including these problems may increase risk:

  • People with a weakened immune system from the HIV or AIDS, or those taking and immune suppressing medication after a transplant are at an increased risk.
  • Certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, have been shown to be an increased risk factor for developing lymphoma.
  • An association has also been shown as an increased risk for individuals who have had infections such as Heliobacteria pylori, hepatitis C, or the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or the human T-cell leukemia/lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1).
  • Certain chemical exposures such as Agent Orange, benzene, or pesticides.
  • Prior treatment with radiation

Race/ethnicity: In the United States, the white population is more likely to develop certain types of lymphoma.

Signs & Symptoms:

The signs and symptoms for lymphoma are different for each person and are dependent on where in the body the cancer is located. In the beginning stages, they are not specific which makes them easy to overlook. The symptoms also differ depending the type of lymphoma. The more common symptoms include swollen glands, fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss, cough and shortness of breath.

It is best to talk with your oncologist about the signs and symptoms you may experience a diagnosis of lymphoma.

Screening & Diagnostic Testing:

Some of the diagnostic procedures used when lymphoma is suspected are listed below. It will depend on the type of leukemia as to which of these tests your oncologist will order to make a definitive diagnosis:

  • Physical Exam and Medical History
  • Biopsy
  • Laboratory tests
  • Bone marrow biopsy
  • Imaging: CT Scan, MRI, PET-CT
  • Lung function testing
  • Cardiac evaluation

Helpful Patient Resources:

We understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a very scary and it is an emotional time for the patient and their families. It is very important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your oncologist. We highly recommend that if you do any research about your disease, that you do so only with reputable sources. For your convenience, we’ve listed some below.

National Cancer Institute

Lymphoma - Patient Version

American Cancer Society


National Comprehensive Cancer Network

Guidelines for Patients